Cargo theft isn’t a new crime. One could argue that it’s one of mankind’s oldest wrongdoings, developing in parallel with civilization over thousands of years. What is piracy other than cargo theft on the open sea?
Today, truck fleets across the country face increased pressures from cargo theft, and the main reason isn’t hard to discern: Hard times drive people to desperate acts. And in the minds of many, cargo theft is a victimless crime of opportunity. Go to a truckstop. Spot an unsecured trailer. Wait for the driver to leave. Open the trailer up and see what’s inside. No one gets hurt. Right?
Wrong. The reality that far from being a victimless crime, today’s hard economic times are driving an uptick in violent attacks related to cargo theft. “Whether it’s going to be the theft of our cargo, or the theft of our tractors and trailers, we’re fighting it every single day, and lately it’s been getting worse,” says Bill Boehning, corporate director of security for Prime Inc., a Springfield, Mo.-based refrigerated carrier.
Boehning says Prime is seeing more blatant behavior in how criminals steal its cargo, including hijackings, robberies at gunpoint and drivers being assaulted. “We’re getting reports of crooks blocking trucks with multiple vehicles, pulling drivers out and tasering them. It seems like it’s escalating and ramping up quite a bit from the types of crime we used to deal with,” Boehning says.
Hard to define
Cargo theft involves a wide range of strategies and felons. Many thefts simply are crimes of opportunity where the driver isn’t a target but is simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, but a large percentage of these crimes are carried out by organized groups ranging from a small band of friends to urban gangs – and even branches of organized crime.
In the latter case, fleets are dealing with sophisticated, determined criminals who conduct extensive research on their intended victims and exercise extreme patience before striking. Criminals have been known to follow drivers with high-value loads on multiple runs for hundreds or even thousands of miles to learn the driver’s habits – what truckstops he likes, where he likes to spend the night and what portions of his run are the most isolated. It’s profiling of the most sinister nature and all geared toward one goal: Determining the most opportune time to strike and steal the cargo with the least amount of risk.
Cargo Theft By State
California 304 350
Texas 173 124
Florida 146 141
New Jersey 130 135
Illinois 88 88
Georgia 76 113
Tennessee 32 47
Pennsylvania 29 38
Indiana 21 11
North Carolina 17 18
New York 17 11
*Top 10 account for 85% of total reported cargo theft incidents in 2011
Source: CargoNet U.S. Cargo Theft Report
California has reported the most cargo theft incidents for the past two years, according to CargoNet, while Texas jumped ahead of Florida in 2011 to claim the dubious No. 2 spot.
“Some of their tactics are pretty simple,” Boehning says. “They know – as we all do – that certain manufacturers produce certain items.” Thieves will sit covertly outside the manufacturer’s gates and patiently observe the trucks coming and going. “They see them go to the dock, and they have a pretty good idea of what the cargo being loaded is,” he says.
But the lengths that some criminals will travel in order to verify cargo is enough to send a chill down any fleet’s collective spine. “The criminals basically do reverse police work to find, learn and stalk their prey,” says Boehning, such as identifying a fleet’s insurance carrier and what types of policies they have.
“They’re smart enough to know a refrigerated fleet won’t pay a high-risk premium to ship cargo that’s not worth a whole lot,” he says. “This is how these guys make their living. They’re not playing around at this, and fleets can’t play around at this, either.”
Today’s high-target loads include pharmaceuticals, tobacco, alcohol and electronics. “With the economy still struggling, any cargo is at risk – even food items,” says Anthony Canale, vice president of CargoNet, a cargo-optimized theft recovery service.
Another big target is precious metals, where Prime has seen an increase in theft among its flatbed operations. “They’re targeted a little more than our reefers are,” Boehning says of his company’s flatbeds. “The crooks can tell right off they’ve got a full load of copper that they can get rid of as opposed to grabbing a reefer and ending up with a whole trailer full of lettuce.”
Also of Interest »